The Christian year begins not in January, but a month or so earlier with the season of Advent. And for Advent there is a special prayer, which many Christians around the world have, for centuries, prayed every day from today (the first Sunday in Advent) until Christmas Eve. It goes like this:
ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
So to start off the new year, here are 8 quick lessons from the Advent Collect.
1. Prayer for Grace
The Advent Collect is a prayer for grace. Advent is the beginning of the Church Year, so right at the outset of a new year we start by praying to Almighty God for His grace. Right at the beginning we recognise our need – that we are not almighty, that we cannot save ourselves – and throw ourselves upon God’s great grace, which is Christ Jesus given for us and to us.
2. Only through grace can we cast away the works of darkness
The Christian year doesn’t begin with New Year’s resolutions to do better. No, it begins with the recognition that, in ourselves, we can’t do better. Right at the beginning we see that we can’t improve our lives, cleaning them up until they’re good enough for God. Not at all. Instead we rely on His grace, for it is only through His grace that ‘we may cast away the works of darkness’. You see ‘the works of darkness’ are the symptoms of our life in the kingdom of darkness, of our life in Adam. But in His grace in Christ Jesus, God ‘has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love’ (Col. 1:13). And now, united to Christ instead of Adam, in Christ’s Kingdom of light instead of the kingdom of darkness, we are free from our slavery to the works of darkness. In Christ and through Christ we may cast them away.
3. Only through grace can we be clothed with the armour of light
And so, casting away the works of darkness, we are free to ‘put upon us the armour of light’. Again, we’re praying for grace so we can put this armour on, so it’s not about our great ability to clothe ourselves with the armour, but rather God’s gracious provision of this armour for us through Christ and in Christ. And what is the armour? Well, the armour is Christ too. United to Christ in salvation, we have put Him on (Gal. 3:27), yet were also told to continue to put Him on (Rom. 13:14). The Light of the world is the One who is our armour against the kingdom of darkness and all its works.
4. Jesus came to visit us in great humility in this mortal life
As we pray for grace in Christ, our prayer cannot but turn to Christ’s great saving work of incarnation and atonement. The One who has saved us from the kingdom of darkness, the One in whom we can put off the works of darkness, the One who clothes us as our armour of light is the One who humbled Himself and entered this mortal life to save us. ‘Visit us’ is biblical language. It’s not talking about Jesus popping round for tea. No, this is the language the Bible uses when God intervenes to bring salvation. That’s how Jesus has visited us in this mortal life, by entering into our humanity in His incarnation, living the one, perfect, sinless life for us, and dying as the one, perfect, once-and-for-all sacrifice for us, in our place on the Cross.
5. Jesus is coming again to judge the quick and the dead
But that atoning death on the Cross wasn’t the end, for Jesus rose again triumphant the third day and ascended to the right hand of the Father, where He ever lives to intercede for us. And on the last day He will come again to judge the living (‘the quick’ in the old language) and the dead. Jesus is coming and when He comes the dead will rise. And on that day all will see that ‘He who believes in Him [in Jesus] is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God’ (John 3:18).
6. By His grace we will rise to the life immortal
When the dead are raised on that last day, those who believe in Jesus will not be condemned, for ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 8:1). United to Jesus in His death and resurrection, we have already safely passed through God’s judgement and come out safely on the other side. United to Him we have died and risen to newness of life, so on that last day we will be raised to life immortal, to enjoy His love and fellowship for all eternity.
7. We pray through Jesus’ mediation
This prayer for grace, we pray by grace. For just as Jesus is our salvation, our armour, our refuge in the judgement, He is also our Intercessor. He is the One who prays for us and He is the One who, as our Mediator, takes our prayers and purifies and perfects them to present them flawless to His Father. And this Mediator and Advocate lives and reigns, which means we can be assured that our prayers are heard and that they will be perfectly answered.
8. Our God is the Triune God
Jesus lives and reigns with the Father and with the Holy Ghost, now and forever. That means that God the Holy Spirit, who is helping us to pray, also reigns upon the throne in full equality, in full unity with the Father and the Son. So the Sovereign Spirit who is helping us to pray and who prays for us, knows exactly how to pray, for He is united to the Father and the Son in purpose and will. This Advent Collect, like all Christian prayer, is prayed to the Father, through the Son in the Spirit. And the Father will answer through the Son, by the Spirit.
What a start to the Christian year, recognising who our God is and what He has accomplished for us in His grace in Christ Jesus!